Last Updated: December 9, 2020

What Languages Are Spoken In Switzerland?

Switzerland is one of those rare countries in Europe that actually has four official languages. German, French, Italian and Romansh.

German is spoken by over 62% of the population in the North and East of the country. While French is spoken in the West by 23% of Switzerland, and Italian in the South (8%). Then there is a very small community of Swiss who speak an ancient language called Romansh.

zurich sunset

German and Swiss-German

Although the vast majority of the Swiss speak German, it is actually a very unique dialect called Swiss-German. Add to that the fact that each region has it’s own sub-dialect of Swiss-German (pronounced: Schwiizerdütsch by the locals) and it soon gets very complicated.  

In fact, some dialects are so different from others, like the one found in the southern canton of Wallis, that sometimes Swiss from one region will have difficulty understanding people from another.

There are many common elements of the Swiss-German dialect though, such that it is used on television. However, there is no official written Swiss-German. This leads to fun text messages from locals, where the game is to pronounce the word phonetically so you as a foreigner can try to figure out what it is that the person is trying to say to you!

French and Swiss-French

There is a very particular dialect of French used in Switzerland called Swiss-French. However, it is far more similar to French that Swiss-German is to German. In Switzerland, the main differences are in some of the local words used and with a small amount of the numbers.

The division between the French-speaking and German-speaking areas are also quite blurred because the change often happens in the middle of a canton. For example, all three of the cantons of Bern, Fribourg and Valais have German and French speaking areas. And the border between them is referred to as the Röstigraben – or Rosti ditch if you will. It is rumored that the tasty potato dish of Rosti is only eaten on the German side of this line. Although in reality this is far from the truth.

About the Author Anna Timbrook

Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.

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